The closure of a main supermarket in Springfield, OH has made access to fresh, healthy foods even more difficult for area residents. These are people who already live in what is known as a food desert.
Food deserts are communities with limited access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables. From a public health perspective, they create barriers when it comes to people being able to have a healthy diet. Without access to fresh food, many people who live in food deserts rely on heavily processed, unhealthy foods available at convenience stores.
Knowing the vital role that nutritious foods play in overall health and well-being, Mercy Health – Springfield is happy to be one of many organizations helping to address this community’s food desert issue.
Surender Neravetla, MD, Director of Cardiac Surgery at Mercy Health – Springfield Regional Medical Center, (pictured above, right) is working together with area residents, the City of Springfield and the Green Environmental Outreach Organization (GEO) to prepare abandoned, city-owned lots as places to grow fresh fruits and vegetables. Dr. Neravetla is a long-time proponent of limiting salt in food because of its associations with high blood pressure and heart disease.
“We identified certain zip codes on the south side of Springfield as food deserts,” he shares. “So far, we have 12 lots and we are adding more. The first lot we’ve prepared for farming is at 724 Plum Street. Area residents, including two Mercy Health employees, were part of this effort.”
Carolyn Young, a Mercy Health community health manager, also notes our involvement in several other projects which support access to healthy foods and the soil where they grow.
“Although we had to cancel the 5th Annual Clark County Service Day due to COVID-19, we received commitments from Global Impact STEM Academy in south Springfield, as well as Jefferson Street Oasis, OSU Extension, The City of Springfield and Wittenberg University to perform soil testing. This will ensure our planted gardens are not located in areas with lead-based soil,” she says. The hope is to revisit this project again in 2021 for Clark County Service Day.
We are also proud to be a regular collaborator on the Clark County Local Foods Council, where Carolyn serves as secretary. This group puts on demonstrations with area-grown produce and regional vendors at the local farmers market in Springfield to provide nutrition education.
“Clark County Local Foods Council promotes the consumption and production of local food as a catalyst for health and social and economic transformation,” says Carolyn. “Our goals include increasing access to fresh local foods and providing support for community gardens as well as alternative gardens such as raised gardens, potted plants and more.”
Carolyn also serves as president for Keep Clark County Beautiful. Last year, this group sponsored a tomato pot project.
“We purchased recycled bags and planted tomatoes in them. We gave the tomato plants away at the Springfield & New Carlisle farmers market. We hope to run this project again in 2021.”
Keep Clark County Beautiful is also the sponsor of a local sunflower field, which has been in place for three years.
“We located the sunflower field in the middle of a neighborhood in the south end of Springfield adjacent to a bike path. The sunflowers help remove impurities from the soil in an area that was a former brownfield manufacturing site. Hopefully, one day, the location will be able to be a safe planting site.”
All of these initiatives fit in with our community health needs assessment and implementation plan. We are so proud of Dr. Neravetla and Carolyn for their efforts and thank them for their heavy involvement in helping provide healthy foods to the Springfield community.